'Bigger than coffee' | BusyBeans cafe opens in Fairfield

Griffith DeSouza making a coffee at the BusyBeans cafe in Fairfield on Wednesday. Picture: Chris Lane
Griffith DeSouza making a coffee at the BusyBeans cafe in Fairfield on Wednesday. Picture: Chris Lane

Do you know the difference between a cappuccino, latte and a mocha? Do you need steamed or foamed milk? What's the espresso to milk ratio? What order does everything go in?

Now imagine trying to remember all that and trying to make a coffee while being legally blind. Welcome to Griffith De Souza's world.

The 19-year-old is one of 20 participants with a range of disabilities that are currently being trained at the BusyBeans cafe in Fairfield which officially opened on Wednesday.

Run by AimBig Disability Employment Services, in partnership with Community First Step (CFS), the training centre provides people living with a disability the opportunity to build their skills to become quality baristas with members of the public able to purchase a coffee for a donation. After their training, the goal for participants is to be placed with a business for paid full-time employment as an in-house barista.

For Griffith, who became legally blind at 14, he was struggling to find employment before starting with the BusyBeans cafe three-months ago located inside the CFS shop opposite Fairfield court.

Five years ago he lost the majority of his vision within a month courtesy of an inherited form of vision loss called leber hereditary optic neuropathy which affects the optic nerve.

"I thought I just needed glasses," said Griffith when his vision started to become blurry.

"I took it pretty fine. I didn't really hit me until months or maybe years later. You don't realise how important something is until you lose it. It didn't really occur to me how much I needed my sight or how my life was going to change.

New Community First Step chief executive John Gilmore and AimBig general manager Terry Wilson cut the ribbon to open the BusyBeans cafe. Picture: Chris Lane

New Community First Step chief executive John Gilmore and AimBig general manager Terry Wilson cut the ribbon to open the BusyBeans cafe. Picture: Chris Lane

"I regret the things I didn't do. I was going to get a job at the end of the year and join the basketball and cricket team. I procrastinated and said I will do it later."

These days he is focused on the here and now. He hopes to one day get into event management but finding a job in any field was proving difficult. He describes the BusyBeans program - which was piloted in December 2018 in Sydney and is now rolling out nationally - as "very beneficial."

So how does he make a coffee with only a little bit of peripheral vision?

"I use my other senses...touch, hearing and smell. I can check if the milk quality is good by the smell and using the machine is muscle memory now," he said.

"The thing I struggled with when I first started was putting the handles into the coffee machine but my skills have definitely improved since I started. I might not be as quick but the quality is there."

AimBig chief executive Marcella Romero said BusyBeans aims to challenge the "stark unemployment figures" in Australia for people living with a disability, particularly those with an intellectual disability or autism.

"Sadly, almost half of people with a disability are unemployed. For those with autism, the rate of unemployment skyrockets to three times the rate of people with disability and almost six times the rate of people without disability. We want to change that," she said.

"BusyBeans is bigger than coffee. Employment gives people a sense of purpose and a reason to get out of bed in the morning. The program is about social inclusion and giving people a chance to fully participate in their community.

"Most of the people placed in the program would not survive in a normal fast pace cafe environment, but through training, support and working to a person's strengths we are really seeing our participants thrive."

AimBig general manager Terry Wilson cuts the cake. Picture: Chris Lane

AimBig general manager Terry Wilson cuts the cake. Picture: Chris Lane

Ms Romero said AimBig has trained 150 participants, with 20 more registered and 10 new employees committed to a trial. Currently more than 20 companies have a barista or multiple baristas employed.

"Through the program, workplaces are provided with their own barista, a coffee machine and a tablet with a custom-designed app to process orders and notify staff when their coffee is ready," she said.

"The program aligns to the strengths of people with autism and intellectual disabilities who often do well with repetitive tasks, but the digital app compensates for common challenges like short-term memory and multi-tasking.

"Many organisations don't know how to take the first step in employing someone with a disability. This is a new way of approaching it."

AimBig general manager Terry Wilson and new Community First Step chief executive John Gilmore cut the ribbon to open the cafe which provides personalised support and coaching before and during the work placement to build confidence and skills.

Mr Gilmore said their partnership with AimBig is about delivering a holistic response to people with disabilities and providing greater choice - in particular helping young people to participate in real employment opportunities in the community.

CFS has been operating in Fairfield for more than 40 years and provides a range of services, including community hubs, youth centre and prevention program, early childhood services and disability services.

Griffith said his long-term goal was to participate in the Paralympics in an event management role or as a goalball competitor.

The BusyBeans cafe at Fairfield is now open to the public at 1/11 Spencer Street.